Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Rise in Military Suicides Puts Focus on Personal Firearms

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Rise in Military Suicides Puts Focus on Personal Firearms

Article excerpt

The issue is a thorny one for the Pentagon. Gun rights advocates and many service members fiercely oppose any policies that could be construed as limiting the private ownership of firearms.

With nearly half of all suicides in the American military having been committed with privately owned firearms, the Pentagon and Congress are moving to establish policies intended to separate at- risk service members from their personal weapons.

The issue is a thorny one for the Pentagon. Gun rights advocates and many service members fiercely oppose any policies that could be construed as limiting the private ownership of firearms.

But as suicides continue to rise this year, senior Defense Department officials are developing a suicide prevention campaign that will encourage friends and families of potentially suicidal service members to safely store or voluntarily remove personal firearms from their homes.

"This is not about authoritarian regulation," said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "It is about the spouse understanding warning signs and, if there are firearms in the home, responsibly separating the individual at risk from the firearm."

Dr. Woodson, who declined to provide details, said the campaign would also include measures to encourage service members, their friends and their relatives to remove possibly dangerous prescription drugs from the homes of potentially suicidal troops.

In another step considered significant by suicide-prevention advocates, Congress appears poised to enact legislation that would allow military mental health counselors and commanders to talk to troops about their private firearms. The measure, which is being promoted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, would amend a law enacted last year that prohibited the Defense Department from collecting information from service members about lawfully owned firearms kept at home. …

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